Maia Sharp Balances Personal With Professional

Evocative and new, syrupy and unembellished. Maia Sharp’s Mercy Rising is equal parts melodic, relatable, and intimate.

It’s been three weeks since Maia Sharp dropped Mercy Rising, her latest album. This record is a long time coming in terms of the her evident need to create for herself and the undertone that this piece of music is both confessional and comforting. The multi-faceted singer-songwriter has created a critically acclaimed emulsion of blues, alternative, rock, and county. Between baring the depths of her soul, delivering her very own voice, and entertaining the masses with her clever lyricism, she softens the blow of this record with an understated musicality. Sharp’s eye and ear for music is just that –sharp. She allows feelings and sounds to live in harmony, literally and figuratively. The well-versed musician dove headfirst into how she did just that in an interview with AQ.

Mercy Rising is, without a doubt, your most vulnerable, immersive piece of music to date. Music has consistently been a massive part of your life and who you are, but how did this particular record along with its truly honest message come about?

The two years leading up to the making of this album saw some major changes.  My marriage of 21 years ended and I moved to Nashville from California where I had lived all my life.  Along with those changes came a new big fat bag of emotions that I had to figure out how to navigate.  Writing songs has been a way of working through tough times for a while but this round was particularly rich with frustration, exploration, perseverance, acceptance… all those points you try to hit along your way out of a tough time. 

You are known for your magical, poetic, and truly exploratory lyricism. Your craft has been spectacularly honed alongside some stellar talent. From the start, though, what got you into songwriting and does that approach to writing music still resonate with you today – a wiser, more professional and established artist?

Wow, thanks for such a complimentary set up in that question.  I feel like whatever I say now will be anticlimactic!  Music was the center of my house growing up.  My parents played music together in high school and after and my dad, Randy Sharp, is a singer/songwriter/producer/musician so it was always around and I was encouraged (but never pushed) to try any instrument I wanted, create anything I wanted, and I always loved to write.  When I was really young I wrote super simple and probably terrible poems and I loved to read collections of short stories.  I didn’t put the two together (writing and music) until about halfway through college.  I was a saxophone performance major at Cal State Northridge so I knew I wanted to be a musician, but it took until then to realize my short story loving side needed to meet my musician side. I started co-writing with my dad right away and learned so much from him. My dedication to making a song the best that I can make it every time hasn’t changed but in the last couple years I’ve become more loyal to the truth.  I get much more excited now to write about true things, my story or someone else’s (like a co-writer).  Either way, I want it to be true.  No matter how personal a true story feels, if it’s true for one human it’s probably true for another too.  

The way your songs have been brought to life seems to have shifted over time. Your voice and your stories are ever present, but the musicality has evolved, the production has grown. How important is it, for you, to have this freedom and be able to try to mold your artistry to what you’re interested in and influenced by at any and all times in your life?

It’s very important.  I love the production process and how it can inform the song itself especially if I know I’m writing for my album.  Speaking of timely influences, I was hooked on the Lucy Dacus album Historian and had the production arc of “Night Shift” in mind while I was writing “Missions.” That was really fun to flip that switch at the end and just let it fly.  I try to stay porous between projects – all the time, really – to learn as much as I can from other artists and co-writers; and then during the project to stay open to the suggestions and contributions of the talented people I called to play on the album. 

Maia Sharp by John Partipilo

You’ve most definitely been asked this before in interviews, but as both a fan and a journalist, I’m curious as to what it’s like to write songs for yourself versus writing songs for others. Do you have to separate your personal stories and feelings from the pieces you are sharing with other musicians? Do you ever start writing something with or for someone and then realize you want to hold it closer to you for the hopes of being put on something like Mercy Rising?

I have definitely started writing with another artist thinking it was for them and then felt closer and closer to it until I realized it was my story, too.  I’ve never had an issue with both of us recording our song so fortunately that has worked out.  I’ve also never felt protective of a song that I thought was for me when I wrote it.  If another artist wants to give it life, I’ll never get in the way of that.  If I/we tap into something true and relatable, it just feels like a victory if someone else relates to it, too.  I wrote a song called “The Bed I Made” with David Batteau in LA years ago with my true story at the time in mind.  He got the song to Bonnie Raitt who asked if she could record it – of course!  Learning that my story had connected with an artist I love so much was full circle awesome.

Your current abode in Nashville is found in quite the different community – musical or otherwise – than that of your lifelong home in Los Angeles. Why was now, within the last few years, the write time to shake things up both personally and professionally?

It was a combination of a push out of LA to get a fresh start and a pull to Nashville where I had been cultivating a community of writers, musicians, and friends over the many years I’d been traveling here.  Also, maybe because of all the Los Angeles transplants, it’s not as different from LA as it once was.  Here in East Nashville, there are a lot of little things like the coffee joints, restaurants, and the general “I’m a musician” look of people on the street that could just as easily be Silverlake.

What are some songs off this new record of yours that you absolutely adore? Now, I know everyone says that their work, their art, their songs, are their babies, but you must have a favorite or two… or at least a song or two that you hope are the most resonating with fans.

As an only child I can safely say I’m sure parents have their favorites, too.  First of all, I’m proud of the collection and how each song, to me, feels like it brings something the other ones don’t… the sultry one, the bluesy one, the country one, etc.  If I had to secretly favor one or two, the first would be “Whatever We Are” for its classic country form and the therapy I got from writing it (I brought the first 2 verses to co-writers Thomas Finchum and Anna Schulze, both great writers, and we all wrote the rest). My other favorite changes from day to day, but today it’s “Things to Fix,” because it’s just so damn true.